Homily on being placed with the saints

We must never forget, that the heart of our faith as Christians is that we meet God in and through Jesus. As he said “To have seen me, is to have seen the Father”. (John 14:9) This means that we can feel God the Father’s love and compassion for us in a very real way, as we hear Jesus speaking words of comfort and wise advice, and as we see him dying for us on the cross. But our danger is that this gives us such comfort that we fail to see the challenge in much of what Jesus says; and we fail to realise that the God whom he teaches us to call “Father”, is also the God who is, as we heard in the reading from Hebrews (12:18-24) “Nothing known to the senses”  – an immense and powerful force way beyond our understanding.

We need to remember all this as we hear Jesus’ parable today. He appears to be simply giving wise advice on how to be polite and modest at dinner parties, but actually, like all of Jesus’ teaching, this is more about our relationship with God. Yes, there are places where Jesus teaches us that when we are with God, it is he who will sit us down and serve us; but in this teaching that is certainly not the case. Instead, he is warning us not to take God’s welcoming love for granted, as if we could walk into heaven and say “Hello God”, and walk right up and sit down beside him as if we were the most important person in the room. Now I’m sure that you can see how wrong that attitude to God  is, yet we do meet people who do take God for granted like that, don’t we? And perhaps we sometimes can be a bit like that too. It’s one thing to know that God loves us and always hears our prayers, and quite another to take that closeness for granted, and forget who we are talking to.

Two things follow from this. The first is that we must be careful when we pray, not to spend all our time speaking to God, and never giving God time to speak to us. Of course there are times when we’ll want to pour out our story to God, especially when something upsetting or distressing has happened to us, or when we’re in pain or great sadness. God will always listen. But we also need to develop what our 1st Reading calls “An attentive ear”… maybe we should call it “A listening ear” .

This must apply to the whole of our life and not just to our times of prayer. Sadly, when we get busy with our life, or our work, or our problems, it is easy to forget to be sensitive to what God may be saying to us in and through everything that we experience, not just so-called religious things.  The reason why we are encouraged to have “times” of prayer each day, as I mentioned last week, is to help us to make all of our life more responsive to God’s presence, rather than limiting God to only one area of our lives. If we think it’s all right to rattle off a few prayers, and then forget about God and his will for us the rest of the time, then we have missed the point, haven’t we?

This leads on to the second thing I want to say, and that is the importance of developing an attitude of humility in all that we do. Now true humility is not getting agonised about our sins or our failings, instead it’s much more about having a sense of humour about ourselves – not taking ourselves too seriously. I love the story of the new Head Teacher of a very posh school for clever girls, who introduced the radical idea, that these clever girls should be taught the value of failure. She pointed out that instead of agonising about failure and getting steamed up about trying to get perfect results, the best way forward in life is to see our failures not as things to beat ourselves up about, but as some of our best learning experiences. That, you see, is true humility.

The kingdom of God, that we pray for every day when we say the Our Father, is a place where everyone has an equal place and is equally valued. Life with God is not about scrabbling to reach the top of the tree, but about realising that everyone is equally precious to God even, and perhaps especially, if they think of themselves as a failure. That is what the reading from Hebrews says, doesn’t it? “What you have come to is… the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven…. You have come to God himself… and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect.”

 Notice that! Not, you have to make yourself perfect to be a saint; but you have been “placed” with the saints, and even they, the holiest of all people, have not made themselves perfect, but have been made perfect….. by God.  That is the kingdom we belong to, and it should affect every aspect of our lives.










Homily on Spiritual fitness

One of the phrases used by athletes at the Olympics when they talk about how they prepared for it is “I put myself through a lot of punishment but it was worth it in the end!” Yes, we are all impressed by what these athletes do, but we need to remember that being a Christian is like being an athlete. We get this from St Paul who writes to the Christians in Corinth, Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor 9:24) Later of himself he writes “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Now that’s a challenge for all of us today, to do our best to be what every Christian should be, spiritually fit.

A Sports coach faced with improving the fitness of an athlete does not start by imposing the same exercises on everyone he trains. No, he starts by assessing individual fitness. So the first question each of us need to ask ourselves today is “How spiritually fit am I?” Am I just cruising as a Christian… just going through the motions rather than really developing a deeper relationship with God?

We might start our analysis by asking ourselves why we are we here at Mass? Some of us will be here because it makes us feel better. We find comfort from familiar words and prayers and from a sense of the presence of God. For us the questions is : “Would still be faithful if being at Mass, saying out prayers, stopped being comfortable and soothing. Would we carry on then?”

Others of us may be here because we need help. We are faced with some big problem, some big sadness or difficulty in our lives, and in our struggle for a way beyond these difficulties we have turned to God for help. For us the question is: “Would still be faithful if things starting getting better for us?” It is noticeable that better-off people who can afford to go out and enjoy themselves at the weekend, on trips out, on holidays, on sport or shopping, are far less likely to be faithful practising Christians. All these other things seem much more fun! Would we lose the faith. if life became easy and smooth and other things attracted us?

Then there are some of us, and this is particularly true of priests, who come to Mass partly because that is what we have always done for more years than we care to remember. Prayer has become a habit, almost something we do without thinking. Now that may be good ; but the danger is that if our life gets disrupted in some way, then if prayer has become just a habit and has lost its depth, what seemed a fixed part of our life can quietly dissolve into nothingness.

This is precisely what Jesus is warning us about in our Gospel (Luke 13:22-30) He tells us to try our best “to enter by the narrow door”. I was talking to a fervent and fairly anti-Catholic Protestant Christian the other day, and discovered he had been brought up a Catholic. “Why was I never told” he said, “That being a Christian means committing oneself utterly and completely to the Lord Jesus Christ?”  I was saddened to hear that despite the fact that he must have heard Bible Readings like ours today, no-one had explained that this did not mean just going to Mass every Sunday and trying to be good. I’m glad if you do both those things, but unless we also talk to God and listen to God in our life, unless we make this time in church MEAN something to us, then we have missed the point completely. We heard what the Master said to people like that in the Gospel :“I do not know you.”

Sometimes people, especially British or Irish people, apologise to me if they have been crying during Mass. “I am sorry I made such a scene Father.”  “Don’t be sorry” I say “What better place is there than Mass to share our deepest sorrows as well as our deepest joys, with God!

The best exercise to get spiritually fit is prayer; but prayer does NOT mean asking God for things. Prayers means spending some time sharing our life with God, thinking through the day with him, so that gradually his continual presence seeps into our rather dull minds. But we must not be foolish athletes. We must not set ourselves a routine that is too much for us, so that after a few days we fail and sink back into nothingness. Better to spend 5 minutes concentrating on God, than to plan much longer and then fail to find the time. The long term goal must be give ourselves some punishment to get really fit, but God honours every little effort we make, so we must give ourselves time to get there.

Homily on Mary & Death

For us Christians, the day someone dies is also the day when we meet God face to face. As St Paul says “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12) That’s why we sometimes call the day of death our heavenly birthday. For me, the 12th June is a date I cannot forget, because it is the day my mother died over 40 years ago. I hope and pray that she is now with God in heaven, as I remember the words of St Paul from our 2nd Reading today (1 Cor 15:20-26) “Just as all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ” Notice that! We Christians do NOT believe that people pass automatically to heaven. Eternal life with God is a gift given to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. God dies to defeat death, and so bring us to eternal life with him.

 I’m reminding you of all this standard teaching on the faith, because from the very earliest times Christians have celebrated death of Mary, the mother of Jesus, as her entrance into heaven. And just as I can remember the date of the passing of my earthly mother, so they remembered, and have passed on to us, the date – the 15th of August – of the passing of the mother that Jesus gave to us all as he died on the cross. As Mary stood at the foot of the cross, Jesus said to his dear friend John, the only disciple brave enough to stand with her “This is your mother”

 Now we might say “Yes OK.”, and leave it at that. But the Church tells us that Mary is more important than that, and that we need to think and pray regularly about her part in bringing Jesus to the world, if we are to understand more clearly what it is that God offers us through Jesus. A famous Dominican writer, Fr Timothy Radcliffe, points out that when someone asks us home to meet their mother, we’re actually being offered an even closer friendship with them. This may well have happened to you? Think how in this situation, the Mother tells us stories, sometimes embarrassing ones, about her son or daughter from when he or she was younger; and thus we learn things about them that we never knew before.

 Some of the stories of Jesus in the Bible, including our Gospel today (Luke 1:39-56) are clearly one’s that do not come from Jesus, but from Mary : stories she must have told the first Christians, so that they could learn more about how God works through Jesus to bring us to eternal life with him.

 The three most famous stories are told at length in the Bible, and so are clearly very important. They are first the story of the Angel coming to Mary, then Mary’s Visit to Elizabeth (our Gospel today) and then finally the birth of Jesus and the few stories we have of his childhood. Mary’s part in all this reminds us that even the most ordinary human beings, like you and me, can be filled with the Holy Spirit and used by God in wonderful ways. They remind us also how God chooses to become fully human, in Jesus, to be a baby in the womb and a child in his mother’s arms. This is the most remarkable thing about the Christian Gospel that we easily take for granted.  God choosing to work in a special way in one of us, Mary, in order that he might be born as one of us, Jesus.

 Thus we are taught two things. First, that God does not work in us just in a spiritual way, but that he uses our flesh and blood humanity to bring his love and glory to the world – just as he worked in Mary. Second, that, although we are called to a personal faith in Jesus, who died for us, part of the way we are linked to him is by being living members of his family. Remember what Jesus says to us. “I no longer call you servants… I call you friends.” (John 15:15) and in another place Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35). That is what we are called to be ,with Mary our mother, a family supporting and loving one another, and together bringing his message of love and salvation to those around us and to world.

 Finally, of course, the message for today is that when we die, we do not die alone. We are drawn through the love of God fully into the family of God that we have been part of whilst on earth. We cannot really ever understand what life after death is like, but we can know that somehow the best things about being human, loving and caring for one another, are something we will experience with God for ever after we die. Before Christianity, life after death, if believed in at all, was an entry into a shadowy ghostly world to be feared more than welcomed. Death for Mary, and for all the family of Jesus is quite different, an enter into life and love and glory. That is what we celebrate today.

Homily on the use of power

Today we celebrate the fact that Jesus was a different kind of King from the ones we see on films, waging battles and killing people to maintain their power. It would seem therefore, that we should be thinking today about a better way for people who have great power to use that power. Well yes we could. But rather than do the obvious, I want us to look more at what this teaching of Jesus means for us, in the way we live our rather ordinary lives; and I say this because I was struck by what one person said in our Bible Share on Monday morning, when we looked at these readings together. She reminded us that we all have power of some kind, as parents or grand -parents or as friends. People are influenced by us and what we say and do. We may not think we have much power, but we need to work out the best way, the Christian way, of using any power, however small, that we do have.


I was reminded of this truth by someone I know who visits her father in a Care Home. Recently she noticed that the level of care had got much worse, and she wondered what she should do about it. She began to think how she should use her power to help her father. Her first call was to talk to the manager. Quite right too. As Christians we have a duty when we see things that are wrong to complain about them to someone who has the power to put them right. Moaning about it when we get home is just a waste of time. So, “I want to see the Manager please” is a very Christian thing to say.


So she complained to the Manager, but did not get a satisfactory answer. What should she do next? Should she just struggle on to support her father by going in more often to help him and the other people in the home? Well she might, but a Christian also has a duty to take it up with a higher authority. It may not do any good, but we should still try, try to use the little power we have to make things better. I think that she was going to complain to the Care Quality Commission. but it was also suggested to her that she should write to her MP – in this case Andrew Smith for Oxford East. She was a bit surprised by this suggestion. probably because it had never occurred to her that this was what our MP’s are for.


It is easy for us to knock our politicians, to dismiss them as people who are just in it for the power. The scandals of the misuse of power by those who fiddled their expenses etc. can blind us to the good work done by many hard working MP’s, whatever the political party they represent. As Christians we have a duty not only to use the power we have as well as we can, but to encourage those with more power, like MP’s, to use their power in a better way. Notice that Jesus does this in the Gospel today (John 18:33-37) when he tells the man with the apparent power, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, what true power is all about. He says “I came to bear witness to the truth”. Jesus is, as we heard in our 2nd Reading (Rev 1:5-8) “the faithful witness”.


In his case, it would seem that Jesus was unsuccessful. Pilate ignores him, and has him killed. But actually those few words with Pontius Pilate have, over the centuries, actually affected any number of people in power. If you’ve been watching The Last Kingdom on the TV, you would have seen them emphasising the contrast between the savage pagan idea of power, with the Christian understanding of power exercised by King Alfred the Great. It may not be absolutely true to history but it’s great drama, and it makes the point.


So every Christian has the duty to be, like Jesus, a witness to the truth.  Those of you who know the story of Oscar Romero, or other great saints who have died opposing those who misuse power, will know what I mean! Of course, taking a complaint about  a Care Home to an MP is hardly likely to get you killed, but it can often be quite effective, and it certainly reminds an MP what we have given them power for – to serve us, not to serve themselves!


Given that Care Homes in Oxfordshire are some of the worst in the UK, the more people who complain the better; especially to MP’s who have the money to put their old people into private Care Homes, and might otherwise not be aware of such things. It’s always worth remembering that being like Jesus, being a Christian, is not just a private thing. It is also a call to bear witness to the truth in society as a whole, in one way or another, even if we think that what we say or do may will make no difference.

One with God and one another

Frances writes on this weekend’s readings :- It is fascinating that the very earliest Biblical writer, the Yahwist, of the 10th century BC wrote his story of creation, Gen 2:18-24, (placed second in our Genesis account), from the perspective of the close, even intimate relationship between God the creator, and man. Humanity is  put on the earth in this account prior to all other creation. Indeed, so close is the God-man relationship that God gives man the task of naming the animals, and foresees that humanity should not be a solitary creature but live in relationship to the rest of creation and ultimately that he needs a partner, woman. The picture is one of the intimacy between man and woman, but also between God the creator and the creatures, human beings that he has made. There is pleasure and rejoicing in the very fleshliness of their being expressed in the action of God himself in making woman from the rib of Adam. It is a relationship of delight and respect in which God the creator is fully and intimately involved. The unity and solidarity of creator and creation is deeply etched onto this early account, which, unlike the better known and much later account of the Temple priests, with its near scientific understanding of the succession of created things, is a deeply theological reflection on the goodness of the God-man relationship.


It appears that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews, (2:9-11), be it Paul or someone else a little later, was also at pains to stress this abiding relationship, even going so far as to stress the divine presence in each and every human being. This entire and lengthy letter, with its great Eucharistic focus concentrates on our God-given capacity for God, on the redemption wrought by the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for us. Here, in our passage, he is insistent that Jesus, always totally one, in complete union with the Father, is by his Incarnation, his becoming human, totally and entirely one with us. He is not different from us, of some strange and exotic species, totally different from us. This means that when we are saved/redeemed, we are not as it were transformed into something other than we were. For we and Jesus are, as the writer puts it “Of the same stock”, or as the RSV puts it, following the Greek, we all have the same origin. Just as Christ Jesus was born a human being, so are we, we are one and the same with him, members of the human race, sarx, flesh. In rescuing us from sin and death, Jesus does not break the original mould and begin again with us, rather he takes what was always in us, as it was in himself, and refashions it according to the Father’s will, so that we too, who have lost that capacity for God may recover it and the lost intimacy that rightfully belongs to us all. The purpose of all this, according to Hebrews is “To bring a great many of his sons into glory.” The reasoning behind all this is quite clear and simple “It was appropriate that God, for whom everything exists and through whom everything exists…” In other words, it is the right and fitting thing for God the creator to do, it is what God is like, what God is. For God to be God he could not do less. The fact that, as the letter continues, we see that Christ achieves our redemption through suffering is again a mark of his total commitment and solidarity with the rest of humanity for whom life involves such suffering, pain and death. What we have here then is a wonderful picture, a meditation on the closeness of God and man, and we have to learn to let ourselves be held in that closeness. It’s something modern people with our love of independence find difficult. I shall shortly undergo yet more surgery, and am reminded how one has to give oneself totally into the hands of another at such moments – a small taste of divine love.


In our gospel, (Mark 10:2-16) Jesus argues this issue out with the Pharisees over the issue of divorce. They were hoping to trap him, accusing him of infringements of the Mosaic Law which did allow divorce. But Jesus pre-empts their action by deliberately taking the issue of marriage back to its Genesis origins and our first reading, reminding them of the shared gift and delight, their becoming one flesh, sarx in union, a reflection of divine love, and he puts before them the outrage therefore of divorce and remarriage as a fracturing of the divine intention. Indeed, those of us involved in divorce from a family perspective, and scarred for life by such tragedies, can readily agree that such actions do seem to run contrary to God’s plan for our mirroring of his love as seen in the relationship between Father and Son. We are made and designed for so much more, as both stories from the gospel remind us, both the question of divorce and that of the treatment of children and we need to open our hearts and minds to the infinite possibilities our life with God holds out to us.

Caring for those others ignore

Frances writes :- When we lived in Newbury many years ago, I had a Christian friend who belonged to a sect that believed that you could see who God loved by the wealth they possessed. Riches, they claimed, in a thoroughgoing misreading of the Old Testament, were a sign of God’s blessing and poverty an indication of his displeasure. Anyone in their community who fell on hard times was expelled from the group and the very ancient idea that almsgiving and care for the poor was essential to the Christian’s salvation cut no ice at all with them. Quite clearly the message of James, (5:1-6) had no effect at all! Indeed, one wonders quite how they came on any of their ideas from any reading of the life of Jesus and the New Testament.


Whilst the distinctions I have just spoken of may be crystal clear to all of you, the fact remains that it can be very difficult to work out what right and wrong behaviour often is. It would be so simple, wouldn’t it, if simply following a set of rules faithfully guaranteed salvation, but that is not the case. In our reading from Numbers (11:25-29) we see that the seventy are only appointed by God to prophesy and only for a short time due to the  complaining of the people of Israel during the Exodus. Moses himself can’t cope and loses his cool with the Lord, so the seventy are commissioned. But then two others, who it appears have not followed the regulations of the Lord given through Moses, also prophesy much to the consternation of the rest who have done what they were told. It is only when challenged on the authenticity of these two, that Moses comes into his own again and recognises that God is in everyone, that following the Lord God is not about rules so much as the spirit of the thing in ways which may be much more problematic, threatening and obscure to the straight-laced rest of us, so that we can see what obedience to God is really about. Perhaps this is precisely why the quirky Pope Francis has taken a family of Syrian refugees into his apartments at the Casa Santa Marta. One can just imagine the fluttering in the dovecote that has occasioned! Clearly this Pope believes that you must take the lead quite literally yourself, not just exhort others to do so, and damn the consequences.


In our Gospel, (Mark 9:38-43.45.47-48) we see the disciples, in something like a deliberate parallel of this Numbers incident which centred on Moses, the greatest prophet and leader of Israel, and therefore the model for Jesus at the time. It raised similar questions about the authenticity of other healers, not of their group, but who cured people in Jesus’ name. Our Lord’s response, just like that of Moses, was to recognise the power of God in unexpected places. His aim again is to get the disciples to think outside the box, and he does it precisely by expanding the boundaries for what is and is not acceptable in an age remember when divisions between people were tightly drawn.


This was a period when Roman citizens were privileged above all others especially under the law; when Sadducees formed an elite which ruled the temple and controlled all its offices and access to it; when Pharisees who were strict adherents of the Mosaic law demanded that all other Jews behave similarly if they were to qualify for its privileged access to God. Perhaps Jesus saw a similar exclusivity developing among his own, for he speaks  about the possibility of their becoming a scandal, a sacrilege (not the Jerusalem Bible translation ‘an obstacle’) against the faith of the ‘little ones’. Surely these people are the ordinary folk, those without claim to status or influence or power, and it is precisely these ‘little ones’ with their incipient faith which is crying out for confirmation and fostering, which the arrived and the rule-bound could so easily crush. We note just how harsh Jesus’ condemnation of these latter people is. It is far more severe than that of Moses, who simply wished that all had the verve of Eldad and Medad. Indeed, Jesus wishes that anyone destroying the fragile faith of others should meet a very gruesome end, being drowned with a huge millstone attached to their neck, or indeed having any offensive bits of their anatomy amputated, rather than sin. The context here again precludes any and every sin, but points precisely to sins against other believers and what we do, or fail to do, to bolster their fragile faiths.


Now clearly Jesus is speaking metaphorically here, for he is pointing the disciples once again back to the situation current in Israel where the maimed and the sick, the deformed and the mentally ill, were seen as cursed by God and excluded from the worship of the temple and its structures. Many of Jesus’ miracles revolve precisely around healing such infirmities, restoring men and women to their full stature in society, so that they could play their full part in the social and economic and religious life which flourished around them. Neither Jesus not the Father want more broken bodies, but the point of Jesus’ harsh rhetoric is to get the disciples to empathise, to imagine just what it would be like for them to be in the position of so many who flocked to Jesus, and who they would turn away to protect his purity and theirs. But Jesus, as we have known all along, had quite another agenda, and respectability played no part in it. If the cross is about anything, it is about reaching into the depths of the depravity and sadness and brokenness of this world and redeeming it, from the tragedy of that tiny Syrian body washed up on a Turkish beach to the scandal of ludicrous wealth wasted daily by the super rich, and the colossal waste of the world’s resources. Our job is to care to the uttermost, for that was what he did.


Moving out beyond the rules

Frances writes on this Sunday’s Readings :- “To those who have been called, whether they are Jews or Greeks, a Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-25). My guess is that throughout the entire story of the human encounter with God, humankind has misconstrued the relationship, taking as folly, as foolishness, God’s actions towards us and believing that we know better. Even today, Christians find it almost incomprehensibly difficult to accept that Almighty God could become incarnate for us and suffer and die for humanity, whilst the notion that his intention for us is that we actually share divinity with him is simply risible. We can only think about God according to our terms; those parameters fixed by power, control and above all success; and however much we claim to follow Jesus the Son who died and rose for us we actually find it almost impossible. Each Lent, reaching up to Easter, its dramatic climax or damp squib depending on how one views things, we follow Jesus on the route to his death and our salvation, and the utter incomprehensibility and folly of God hits us in the face. Many will try to excuse the catastrophe of the passion and death by claiming that Jesus did not really suffer; that he did not really die or that the resurrection, when it came, was some elaborate psychological game. Those of us who do believe it simply have to shake our heads. It is quite inexplicable.

Perhaps this is why the compilers of our lectionary get us to explore the 10 commandments at this point in our Lenten journey. (Exodus 20:1-17). This set of rules, by which the people of Israel were to abide, clearly dates from considerably later than the time of Moses, though some of them may have come up from an earlier format and would have been rules to safeguard the smooth running of the community. We can see this in the injunctions against killing, stealing, and bearing false testimony. Others date from a period when the Jerusalem temple and the Jewish faith were more securely established and religious conformity was de rigueur. Such would be the demand to worship one sole God, (distinguishing him from times when many were known); the injunction against the making of images and their worship (one recalls the tales of the making and worship of the golden calf, let alone the influence of the pagans and their gods); and the setting aside of the Sabbath as a day of rest and thanksgiving. All of these latter commandments have very clear ties to the unique relationship the Israelites had with Yahweh and were designed to give that relationship shape and sustenance. In a way all of the commandments are materialistic, they shape and define Israel as much as they tell us about their relationship with God.

In St John’s Gospel (Jn 2:13-25) the incident we call the ‘cleansing of the temple’ occurs at the start of Jesus’ ministry, directly after the Prologue, the call of the disciples, and the wedding at Cana. It will therefore set the tone of his entire ministry all the way through. Jesus is presented throughout as the one at odds with temple Judaism. His ministry will embrace dubious foreign women and from early on present an alternative core worship in his great Eucharistic exposition in Chapter 6 “I am the bread of life.” Unlike the brief synoptic picture, which presents the cleansing of the temple as part of the final build up to the arrest and passion, John has done something deliberate and quite distinctive with this well remembered scene. His account is far more detailed and raises the whole issue of the significance and power of the temple and speaks of its complete replacement by the person of Jesus. Why?

Can it be that Jesus believed that Temple Judaism had completely departed from its earlier call presented in the Exodus tradition of the 10 Commandments? Are we to think that his violent expulsion of the animal sellers and money changers represented precisely their adoption of a multiplicity of gods, money being their chief, with their idolatry made clear in their greed and their hypocrisy? Certainly the policy of the temple authorities in allowing these sales to shift into the temple precinct profaned the temple and made the Court of the Gentiles, (where the market was) impure. We know that there were shops around the perimeter of the temple which could offer animals for sacrificial sale, so there was no actual need to profane the temple, apart from the desire of its authorities to get a tighter grip on the sale of the animals. St John’s image of Jesus and of his actions and entire ministry, shaped as they all are by this dramatic incident, leaves us in no doubt that he intended us to see Jesus as someone distinctly at odds with Jerusalem and its brand of Judaism; and as offering the faithful a new and wholly richer notion of their relationship with the divine, summed up par excellence in his great prayer in John 17, in which he calls for our total unity with one another and the Father and the Son, their gift to us, with all its staggering possibilities.

And so, on the Third Sunday of Lent one feels that the pressure really has been turned up as we are faced with the great call of Jesus to move out beyond the rules and regulations, whether we abide by them or not, and to begin to accept the great offer that Father and Son are holding out to us as we, like the temple, prepare to be cleansed and offered new life in the death and resurrection of Jesus.